Legislature eyes change to raw milk law

VERMONT — A bill currently making its way through the legislature would allow Rural Vermont to resume raw milk processing classes halted by the state in February.
If passed, the bill would amend milk regulations put in place by Act 62, which allows dairy farmers to sell limited quantities of raw milk from the farm. Currently, Vermont law stipulates that farmers may sell unpasteurized milk for fluid consumption only. Farmers cannot sell any other product made from that raw milk, including cheese or yogurt, and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture in February alleged that farmers were knowingly violating the law by allowing their milk to be used in Rural Vermont’s classes.
The agency threatened litigation if the classes continued, alleging that by conducting the dairy processing classes in uncertified facilities, Rural Vermont was putting consumers at risk of illness, as well as putting dairy farmers who contributed their milk to the classes at a liability risk if any participants became ill.
“Our role is to make sure it’s done safely and within the statutes of the law,” said Dan Scruton, dairy chief of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, in February.
Rural Vermont countered by stating that no milk is sold at the classes, and that the law does not extend into the home — it is a participant’s right to process dairy in their own kitchens.
“We were surprised at how hard the Agency of Agriculture came down on Rural Vermont,” said Sen. Harold Giard (D-Bridport), who serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee, which introduced the bill. “We thought we should address it.”
Senate bill 105 is a catchall agriculture bill that makes an array of minor changes and clarifications to the state’s existing dairy legislation — including amendments to Act 62, which legalized the sale of raw milk in 2008. The bill passed the Senate earlier this month, and it is now in the House Agriculture Committee.
Among other changes, the bill specifically states that raw dairy processing classes are allowed to proceed either on a farm or in another kitchen off-site. It would allow Rural Vermont to continue its raw milk processing classes with the condition that they be conducted in a sanitary location that is cleaned before and after the class, and it would require the organization to keep a roster of attendees with contact information for one year following the class in case of any food safety issues.
The bill would also require anyone teaching raw dairy processing classes to display a sign warning attendees of the health risks involved in drinking raw milk. Farmers who sell raw milk are required to display the same sign.
Giard said that although the bill isn’t a major one, since it simply adjusts existing dairy legislation, it does reflect the legislature’s willingness to adapt the law to the evolving state of agriculture in Vermont.
“It’s interesting that we (passed the bill) as quickly as we did to keep up with the changing times,” he said. “I’m very pleased with that.”
Rep. Will Stevens (I-Shoreham) serves on the House Agriculture Committee, which is currently hearing testimony on the bill. He said he expects the bill to pass through the house, although as the legislative session winds down, it will likely find its way into a queue of other bills waiting to be passed.
“It clarifies the original intent (of the law),” said Stevens. “There’s no reason for us to hold it up… In the end, it’s about consumption in the privacy of one’s own home. It reflects balancing food safety with personal responsibility and risk.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected]

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